The ‘what aboot x’ argument, Most lawsuits are not frivolous, Vast Minorities, and Do children make us happy?

May 7, 2009 at 6:00 pm | Posted in interesting (to moose) | Leave a comment

critical thinking thursday

common wisdom
Do Children Make Us Happy?

Over the past few decades, social scientists like me have found consistent evidence that there is an almost zero association between having children and happiness. My analysis in the Journal of Socio-economics (Powdthavee, 2008) is a recent British example of parents and non-parents reporting the same levels of life satisfaction, on average.

But the warnings for prospective parents are even more stark than ‘it’s not going to make you happier’. Using data sets from Europe and America, numerous scholars have found some evidence that, on aggregate, parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness (Alesina et al., 2004), life satisfaction (Di Tella et al., 2003), marital satisfaction (Twenge et al., 2003), and mental well-being (Clark & Oswald, 2002) compared with non-parents.

Red Herring
How To Spot A Lame, Lame Argument:

There is one particular type of bad argument that has always existed, but it has now spread like tar over the world-wide web, and is seeping into the pubs, coffee shops and opinion columns everywhere. It is known as ‘what-aboutery’ – and there was a particularly ripe example of it in response to one of my articles last week.

As a rhetorical trick, it is simple. Anyone can do it, and we are all tempted sometimes. When you have lost an argument – when you can’t justify your case, and it is crumbling in your hands – you snap back: “But what about x?”

You then raise a totally different subject, and try to get everybody to focus on it – hoping it will distract attention from your own deflated case.

Appeal to Popularity
The Strawman “Frivolous Law Suits” Argument:

Kos describes this a strawman fallacy, but I think it’s more of a case of Argumentum ad populum.

the research sited in the ad states: “83% of Americans say frivolous law suits are a serious problem”. Just because we say it, doesn’t make it a fact. The MSM feeds this perception every time they feature a frivolous law suit, so the public now thinks that most liability suits are frivolous and “something must be done to stop it”. Now, anyone who’s watched an episode of and Boston Legal knows a frivolous law suit when they see one, but that show is fiction and so is the idea that most medical malpractice law suits are meritless and millions of people are getting rich from meritless law suits.

Hasty Generalization
Vast Minorites – 4 minorities that seem like majorities:

Winston Rowntree @ Cracked.com charts the math behind four annoying sub-groups which seem like majorities, when in fact, each of them represent a minority of the whole. This faulty generalization has a special name: “SPOTLIGHT FALLACY“. It’s an kind of fallacy that arises from biased samples.

“Spotlight Fallacy” is a pretty good name, but I like Rowntree’s “Vast Minorities” even better. Clickity Click the image to see more.

most internet users are not trolls

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